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Influences of Wastewater Treatment on the Occurrence of Parabens, p-Hydroxybenzoic Acid and Their Chlorinated and Hydroxylated Transformation Products in the Brazos River (Texas, USA)

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Parabens are ubiquitous, being found in surface waters around the world. Although little is known about the release of paraben transformation products and fate of transformation products in surface water. This study evaluates both parabens and paraben transformation products in the Brazos River upstream and downstream of a wastewater facility located in Waco, Texas. Concentrations of thirteen compounds were reported in this study, five parent parabens and eight paraben disinfection by-products. Analyte concentrations were spatially evaluated to determine if release of wastewater effluent affects their concentrations in the river. Two Brazos River tributaries were also sampled to determine if they released parabens and related compounds to the Brazos. Sampling occurred weekly for one year with at least 40 samples collected at each site. Analyses were completed for both yearly and seasonal data. Sites downstream of wastewater treatment outfalls had lower concentrations of methyl paraben during the yearly analysis and across multiple seasons in the seasonal analysis with average yearly annual methyl paraben concentrations decreasing from 0.83 ng/L at site 3 to 0.09 ng/L at site 4. Para-hydroxybenzoic acid was the compound present in greatest concentration at most sites across most seasons, with the highest average annual concentration of 10.30 ng/L at site 2. Spatial changes in para-hydroxybenzoic acid varied by season, with seasonal trends only identifiable after normalization by flow. Dichlorinated paraben concentrations increased in the river at sites downstream of wastewater treatment with a yearly average dichlorinated methyl paraben concentration of 0.490 ng/L at site 3 to 1.53 at site 4, just downstream of the major wastewater treatment plant. Concentration increases indicate that wastewater effluent contains sufficiently high dichlorinated paraben concentrations to effect concentrations downstream of effluent discharges. Dichlorinated species also persisted in the environment, with no significant decreases at sites further downstream during any season with an annual average dichlorinated methyl paraben concentration of 1.23 ng/L at site 6. Methyl paraben concentrations decreased at the site furthest downstream to a concentration of 0.081 ng/L, while dichlorinated methyl paraben concentrations remained stable with a concentration of 1.10 ng/L at the site furthest downstream. Due to the dichlorinated species being released in higher concentrations in effluent than parents and being more resistant to degradation, the dichlorinated parabens are more likely to be environmentally relevant than are parent parabens.

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The authors would like to thank Chad Mansfield and Bianca Possamai for their part in sampling along the Brazos and Janelle Oldfather for helping process samples. The authors would also like to thank the Baylor Mass Spectrometry Center for providing access to the LC-MS used in analysis. The authors thankfully acknowledge financial support from the C. Gus Glasscock, Jr. Endowed Fund of Excellence in Environmental Sciences.


This work was supported by the C. Gus Glasscock, Jr. Endowed Fund of Excellence in Environmental Sciences.

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Michael Penrose designed experiments, conducted research, collected data, created figures and tables, and wrote the manuscript with input from George Cobb. George Cobb provided input and advice for experimental design, methodology, internal proposals and manuscript development.

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Correspondence to Michael T. Penrose.

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Penrose, M.T., Cobb, G.P. Influences of Wastewater Treatment on the Occurrence of Parabens, p-Hydroxybenzoic Acid and Their Chlorinated and Hydroxylated Transformation Products in the Brazos River (Texas, USA). Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 85, 105–118 (2023).

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